Procol Harum

the Pale 

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Remembering Dave Ball

Richard Beck, from the USA, for BtP

Richard Beck writes (9 April 2015)

It is no exaggeration to say that Dave became a beloved figure amongst the Procol fans and musicians. His infectious affability and confounding humility endeared him to us all. I came to understand that Dave's persona was like an onion whose layers must be peeled back to realise what a prolific artist he was. His archival memory seemed boundless and lent itself to cementing his status as a world class raconteur and humanist.

As a guitar player myself, I developed a deep appreciation and admiration for his skills as an extemporaneous soloist. I can think of no better word to describe him than 'fearless'. A fifteen-minute blues solo seems to flow unfiltered from his heart and gut straight through to his fretboard and out of an amplifier, with no discernible hint of repetition.

How grateful I am to have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with Dave Ball for four Procol songs with the first Palers' Band back in 2000. He was as gracious and charming and as funny as a man could be. During an intermission, his towering frame leaned in to my ear and said of my guitar work, "Top stuff". That simple, classy gesture was classic Dave Ball! He graciously signed one of the chord charts I had provided to him at rehearsal and included a brief personal note to commemorate the occasion.

Later that evening Dave joined a few of us at a restaurant table back at the hotel. I had the chance to tell him how I had first laid eyes and ears on him when Procol Harum played at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis. He actually remembered that concert and the venue and had a story or two of his own to share from that gig. I wish to thank him for that precious and indelible memory.

I hope it an appropriate honorarium to share a few excerpts from a previously published account that I gave of that first encounter with the young Dave Ball, barely one year older than I, and his contribution to the most memorable evening of music of my life.

10 July 1972: Overton Park Shell in Memphis, Tennessee (full article here)

On this night Chess Master Bobby Fischer is preparing for tomorrow's opening match with Russian counterpart, Boris Spassky. At the Democratic National Convention, Senator George McGovern is about to win his floor fight for the huge California delegation's votes, which will secure the nomination in his ill-fated run for the presidency against Richard Nixon. And somewhere across town, the group The Ink Spots are gearing up for their appearance at Memphis's International Restaurant. Meanwhile, restless rock music fans elsewhere are gathered under a fading sunset in Overton Park for a concert of another sort.

We are sitting perhaps thirty yards from the stage. I need no stage lights to see the familiar forms creeping from the shadows up on to their instruments as the MC makes his sudden appearance in the spotlight. Concluding his introduction, he finally shouts out the words 'Procol Harum' and he is blasted off the stage by the crashing opening of Shine on Brightly. If the accompanying applause is recognition of this commercially-obscure masterpiece or just an opening salvo from a rock and roll party crowd, I cannot tell.

Simultaneously I scan the faces of the band. A quick head-count reveals the addition of Alan Cartwright on bass and another head sitting atop a tall lanky guitarist which does not have the face of Robin Trower. Oh Shit! Can't any of the great bands hang on to their star players? Now I will probably spend the rest of the night obsessed with comparisons to Trower and I will miss the show. Not so! I can think of nothing else all evening except how damn good they sound; every verse, every nuance of the music. They are 'in your face' live this night, and taking prisoners left and right.

By my best recollection, the Edmonton Live album was either imminent, or was already in the store racks, still awaiting my discovery. It wasn't until later on, when I bought the album, that I learned the identity of the mystery guitarist I was hearing this particular evening. I wish I could offer a fair and accurate assessment of his performance at this time, but understandably the years have stripped away all but a few impressions of Dave Ball's appearance with this new incarnation of the band.

I can safely say that I can recall seeing a definite onstage rapport with Brooker and that his playing was quite competent, detracting nothing from the performance. As I now scan the mental picture in my memory, he looks rather like a younger David Carradine, on hiatus from his Kung Fu television series. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt and his hair cropped short, he looked as if he had just rolled out of bed. And for some reason, I want to say I recall that he had big feet. In fact, for someone filling the sizeable and well-worn shoes of Robin Trower, he cut a maverick figure, appearing quite comfortable in his rôle as soloist and showing considerable spirit; not attempting to emulate the Trower style but playing with a suitably reckless abandon that seemed appropriate for the music. The only fault with Mr Ball that night was that ... well ... he simply wasn't Robin Trower.

By the end of this show the fans are standing on the bench seats. The band is clearly delighted with their performance this evening, affirming the symbiotic connection that they can have with their audience.

The next morning I picked up the newspaper and turned to the entertainment section to read the local music critic's review of the show. I was treated to a short, two column piece on The Inkspots' performance at the International Restaurant. Alas, the story always ends the same. You can't turn back the page.

Thanks for everything, Dave!

Dave Ball's page at BtP  


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